The state-owned Saudi Electricity Company (SEC) is the largest provider of electricity in Saudi Arabia, with total available generating capacity of 58 gigawatts (GW). The state-owned Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), which provides most of Saudi Arabia’s desalinated water, is the second-largest generator of electricity. There are also independent power producers (IPPs), which sell to another state entity, the Water & Electricity Company (WEC). According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014, Saudi Arabia generated 292.2 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in 2013, 7% more than in 2012 and more than twice as much as in 2000.
Like many developing countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Saudi Arabia faces a sharply rising demand for power. Demand is driven by population growth, a rapidly expanding industrial sector led by the development of petrochemical cities, high demand for air conditioning during the summer months and heavily subsidized electricity rates. Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries that burn crude oil directly for electricity generation. Normally, less expensive fuel oil is used by oil-fired generating plants worldwide. Direct combustion of crude oil for power generation reached an average of 0.7mbpd from 2009 to 2013 during the months of June to September, according to the Joint Oil Data Initiative (JODI). The SEC has plans to reduce direct crude-burn for electricity generation by more than 500,000bpd by switching to natural gas. However, this has put stress on the generation sector, particularly as the government has preferred to bring on natural-gas-fired (rather than petroleum-fired) power plants because the gas to power these plants has not always been available.
In late 2008, the government unveiled plans to invest about $53 billion in electricity generation by 2015. This includes a $21 billion programme for nine independent power projects that would add 9,360 megawatts (MW) to capacity, and a $1 billion contract to add 30 gas turbines to the Riyadh Power Plant to produce an additional 2,000 MW. The King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (K.A. CARE) programme seeks to ensure that half of the electricity generated in Saudi Arabia comes from renewable sources by 2032, when the forecasted growth in electricity demand will require that power-generation capacity be increased to 120GW. The increased use of renewable sources allows for more oil and natural gas originally allocated for domestic power be freed up for export. In the interim, Saudi Arabia is participating in the Gulf Cooperation Council’s efforts to link the power grids of member countries to reduce shortages during peak-power periods. Saudi Arabia does not use coal to generate electricity and has no significant hydropower resources.